Let’s just say this is not the New Year we expect. Certainly, every journey begins with an intention and a destination, and we started on our winter travels with both. Loading our Ford F350 diesel truck with everything we need for the next 3 ½ months, we hang our sole Christmas ornament over the mirror and leave Newtown early Christmas Day. We make great time—no tractor trailers and few cars on the road—and we arrive without incident late in the day in Jonesborough, TN to pick up our 12,000-pound 5th wheel trailer.
Our first destination is to visit with older relatives in St. Petersburg, and our intention is to get to Key West in time to see our son Mark’s robing ceremony as he is officially sworn in as a county judge on Jan. 5. We are right on schedule. It’s our plan to spend 5 days in St. Pete, two months in Key West, and a month in Austin while enjoying cozy living in our 5th wheel trailer. (Remember the old adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him you have a plan?”)
Descending the Great Smokey Mountains, our truck signals engine trouble. We stop at the Ford dealer in Ashville, NC but can’t get immediate service, we stop again in Anderson, SC and learn the problem is serious – we must stop and do expensive repairs. Richmond has written a short piece on that part of our saga (click to read it).
Delayed for 3 days, we depart Anderson in a rental car, after hiring a professional transporter to bring our rig to Key West—our trip to St. Pete postponed—and our truck still in the shop, but now consigned to Anderson Ford’s used truck lot or auction.
Our first weeks here in Key West are full of babysitting our charming 5-month old granddaughter Virginia Elouise
as her mom starts back to work part-time, getting the rig cleaned up and settling in, and enjoying the Key West ambiance. While temperatures tumbled into the single digits in the north, we were layering our too-light tropical clothing and running our gas furnace to ward off the unexpected chill of temperatures in the 50’s.
Staged in the “ceremonial” largest courtroom, Mark’s investment ceremony is appropriately formal and impressive, with allusions to many sectors of Mark’s life, as well as his 13 years here in the Keys prosecuting criminals for both the State Attorney’s Office and the US Attorney.
The photos show posting of the colors by a Florida Highway Patrol squad from Miami, oath of office by the 16th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge, presentation of judge’s robe by the county bar association, accolades from a former student when Mark taught Constitutional Law at Dickenson Law School (now the attorney for the Coast Guard here in Key West) and his colleagues at the Prosecutor’s Office, presentation of the gavel by State Attorney Dennis Ward, enrobing and escort to the Bench by his partner-in-life Cristiana Spottswood, Esq.—and Mark himself speaking with modesty, good humor and generous acknowledgement of everyone present.
In mid-January the days turn warmer (in the 80’s some days), our babysitting routine settles into a nice rhythm. We enjoy the relaxed shirt-sleeve lifestyle of the Keys. It’s movies at the Tropic Cinema, hogfish and beer at the Hogfish Grille, live theater (up to five choices on any given night). Richmond putters about restringing blinds and doing maintenance chores. He works online with the Fair Districts PA organization providing tech support to volunteers all across Pennsylvania.
I cook in our one-person kitchen, and we enjoy fresh wild-caught fish and Florida produce. I participate in phone conference calls to stay connected with Pennswood Villiage friends.
I arrange for our Air B&B stays in St. Pete and in Austin and Richmond books the storage space for the RV in Christmas, FL where it will remain until we return to Key West next winter. We’ll leave the hauling to a professional driver from Orlando. Richmond says, much as he liked driving our big rig, he won’t be unhappy to zip around in our Prius. The way opens for us, and life is good.
As our 3 ½ month RV trip begins to wind down, Richmond and I observed that this time we’re sharing with each other is “golden.” The days fly by! We’re happy and content to be with each other, each engaged in our own interests and pursuits, in a tiny (by American standards) space with few other diversions. We prepare meals, eat, and clean up. We work at our computers. We maintain our 5,000-steps-a-day Nordic walking stick program. We do laundry and take out the garbage. We stay connected to the people we care about. Richmond contributes to the political discourse through his research and writing (Richmond’s essays on “It’s About Vision and Fear” and “$500 million per Victim?” are two of his best). I stay involved in projects back in Newtown and Pennswood Village (writing about fracking/pipelines, coordinating with speakers, setting up future programs for the League of Women Voters, creating articles for the Pennswood Bulletin, making phone calls).
Our son Adam and his family ~
We also spend time with our son Adam and his family. Richmond is enlisted to teach our 15-year old grandson Sawyer to drive. Twenty-five years experience as a high performance driving instructor allows Richmond to stay calm and objective. Sawyer masters parallel parking in a space five feet shorter that he’ll face in the driver exam. On the highway he learns high speed Interstate merges, practiced driving in heavy, city traffic, and gets some good “seat time” behind the wheel.
Twelve-year-old Jennings designs and builds a backyard project out of shipping pallets to practice gymnastic vaults. Richmond helps him add safety padding on the edges as the finishing touch. Here in the video clip is the result (astonishing how agile he is!):
I enjoy cooking an occasional meal, transporting Sawyer, Jennings, and their friends to a “kid” movie and found Eddie the Eagle was amazingly inspiring to watch. It’s a movie that hugely acknowledges the role a mother’s love has in her son’s life. Even ferrying Jennings from track practice to his trumpet lesson was a treat.
One morning we share a little bit of the SXSW (South by South-West) festival and hear some of the live music Austin is so famous for.
We attend Where to Invade Next (a really entertaining comparison of how we do things here in American and what other countries are doing with far better results) with Adam and his family, laughing together and pondering the insights of Michael Moore’s current mockumentary,
How full Adam and Caroline’s lives are—running the school (the Griffin School is in its 20th year), their community involvements, taking care of themselves, arranging play dates, keeping track of their kids schedules. I remember all too well what our lives were like at their ages. Richmond and I were running a business. We were both involved in community activities. I ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1990 (a 2-year process that took over our lives and took a huge investment of our resources). As I look back on that time I see that we were not available to our children to the degree that Adam and Caroline are with their boys (or as our daughter Laura was with her four at that age). Now, as grandparents, sharing these little slices of our adult children’s and grandchildren’s every-day lives is a privilege and a joy — and in some ways, an amend.
Malcolm, one of Adam’s closest George School classmates and now a media professional living in California, worked the SXSW Festival while we were in Austin. Seeing them together as mature adults sharing news of their families, and seeing Sawyer and Jennings with their friends is “de ja vu all over again” — the sweet cycle of life and the relationships that make life worthwhile. How important it is to have people who know us over time and who witness what’s meaningful in our lives!
Jackie’s open-heart surgery ~
During this period, my stepmother Jackie had a heart valve replaced. As everyone who has gone through a major medical intervention knows, even with the best surgeons and hospitals, surgery is not without risks and uncertainties — preparation and recovery involves the whole family. Jackie’s surgery proved complicated, and she’s experienced several set-backs during her early recovery period. Everyone from both sides of the family have pulled together to support to her and Jim! Happily, after a month in the hospital, she’s now at home again recovering.
Caleb turns 20 and lobbies in Washington, DC ~
Our grandson Caleb was able to attend the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) Spring Lobbying Weekend thanks to Laurie, a dear friend from our Somerville days. Sleeping on her couch in downtown DC put him close to the Capitol without having to pay for a hotel. Caleb joined 450 other young adults to petition Congress about the pending Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
This really important piece of legislation addresses some of the mass incarceration costs to our society that disproportionately impact young people of color (e.g., we invest $80 billion in our prison system instead of investing in mental health; $109,000/year on average per teenager incarcerated who has a 60% likelihood of returning to prison). Caleb, in preparation for a law enforcement career, is taking courses in Sociology and Criminal Justice and is able to bring a fresh perspective on how the inequities of mandatory sentencing and mass incarceration might affect his judgment in arresting and charging young people. I just finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a black man’s conversation with his son (I highly recommend it).
Celebrating Spring ~
Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush
Bluebonnet is the Texas State Flower
While we are here, Spring arrives. First pale green shoots and leaves, then sneeze-inducing oak “dander,” then TX wildflowers in abundance (bluebonnets and Indian paint brush). The weather swings from quite warm (in the 80’s) to cold (in the 30’s), sometimes in the same 24 hours as temperatures move from high noon to early morning (the coldest time of day). TX is quite windy also, and we’ve enjoyed several significant thunderstorms with driving rain in this hill-top location. Nonetheless, we’re enjoying Spring—and we plan to follow it all the way back to Pennswood!
How do we keep ourselves “safe?”
As in so many other areas of American life, we are having to re-examine what it means to create “safety” (both private notions of safety as well as public, national and international costs of prisons, law enforcement, militarism, terrorism, and “shared security”—a new notion that FCNL, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and others have been exploring over the past 5-10 years).
War has proven to be far too costly and ineffective, and a new policy would instead strive to match peaceful means with peaceful ends [to reduce suffering and advance human dignity]. . . We reject notions of national superiority and militarism [that use] violence and domination, rather than reason and cooperation. . .We recognize our own complicity. . .Never before have the fates of individuals, communities, and nations been so intertwined. And never before have our safety and well-being depended so much on the safety and well-being of others. . .To address these problems, we need to abandon failed militarized approaches. . .[with tools that] include preventative diplomacy, mediation, transitional justice and reconciliation, trauma healing, community building, and sustainable economies. . .
As President Obama said in 2009, “America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict—not just how we wage wars.”
As I get older, I see how much more difficult it is to process new information quickly. Familiar roads, suburban, and highway driving are easy, but we don’t do much driving in cities any more, and Austin is particularly challenging. Designed, I suspect, more for horse and carriage, the local streets are inadequate for the dense Austin neighborhoods. Our Ford 350 diesel truck, which pulls our huge RV effortlessly and tirelessly, requires a whole different level of vigilance with parking garages that are too low, parking spaces that are too small, and narrow, winding lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. A couple of days after we arrived, I suggested to Richmond that we rent a small car.
Richmond found us a terrific monthly rate with Hertz that also allowed both of us to drive the car without paying an extra $15/day (talk about highway robbery!). Anyway, a few days later we discovered a “knock” in the truck motor, so when Richmond took the truck for its 100,000-mile oil change, he asked the mechanic to check it out. Two weeks later and after 25 hours of mechanic’s time to tear down the engine our Good Sam Extended Service Plan is faced with our claim for over $20,000 for a new replacement engine. They aren’t being hasty about approving it.
We are supposed to depart Austin on April 1, but it’s clear that won’t be possible. We must leave our present campsite because the park is booked solid. No surprise. You saw those Bluebonnets, and spring is prime season here. Fortunately we found space in a US Army Corps of Engineers park an hour’s drive north.
In spite of this mechanical misfortune we feel blessed: 1) we rented the car before SXSW and the TX Rodeo attendees rented everything in sight, 2) we didn’t discover this problem while we were pulling our RV, and 3) all we need (Ford dealer, tow service, insurance adjuster) is close at hand so everything is being taken care of. While the claims process is a bother, and the delayed departure is a disruption, it’s quite minor when compared to what might have been had we blown the engine while towing on the road.
Everything is big in Texas. Consider a massive pink granite rock rising up out of the surrounding terrain 450 feet – and know that what you see is only about 1% of it. The rest lies hidden deep underground and the 644 acre State Park does not encompass the entire formation. This monadnock, the visible part of an igneousbatholith, is the largest in the US and we, elders that we are, climbed it!
This is our Easter family outing, huffing and puffing up the trail and over the glittering granite. We were glad for our daily 2.5 mile walks as training. See more photos here: (more photos)
We return to Austin stopping along the way for an Easter Dinner of TX Bar-B-Q ribs at the famous Salt Lick Barbecue. Even with our hungry teens, we couldn’t polish off all of the 5 lb slab we ordered. This is a place where hundreds of folks like us gather around outdoor picnic tables and feast on ribs, sausage, dill pickles, German-style slaw, and potato salad. All cash, no reservations, no frills. Just great food that worth a wait in line.
We’ve loved being here–and we’re looking forward to returning home! Come and visit us!
Acquaintances often ask me what Quakers believe knowing that Marguerite is a Quaker and that I have been attending First Day meeting with her for years. You won’t find an official creed that Quakers subscribe to. The reasons are rooted in history, but remain central to the Quaker notion of the Divine or God.
Most believe that there is “that of God” in every person, and that our relationship with the Divine is immediate and personal. No intermediary is necessary to hear the leading of God, and no other person or thing is essential to mediate our connection with the divine. One needs only to sit quietly listening and waiting with openness to the Spirit moving you. In fact, priests, liturgies, vestments, ornate churches, and the other traditional trappings of formal religions get in the way by substituting the external for what must arise from within. So, while individuals may share what they personally believe, they don’t presume to speak for all Quakers.
That said, here are some attempts to describe what Quakers believe. The first is a set of nine statements that life-long Quaker Arthur Larrabee has constructed and revised over many years of conversations with his fellow Friends.
The second item is a simple list compiled and offered by the Friends General Conference – the organization that serves Quaker Meetings throughout the US and Canada. It’s generally given to visitors who wish to explore what the Religious Society of Friends stands for.
Rack Cards Summarizing Friends Values and Testimonies.
“I heard no call, Father,” I said. “I came here as a stranger, and I came by chance.”
“Was it as a stranger and by chance you wept?” he said, then let me wonder at his words a while before he spoke again. “When a man leaves home, he leaves behind some scrap of his heart. Is it not so, Godric? . . . It’s the same with a place a man is going to. Only then he sends a scrap of his heart ahead.”
– Originally published in Godric by Frederick Buchener
Two days before leaving Austin, we get an email from a new Pennswood resident, Nancy Arnold. The joy of Pennswood is that we keep meeting interesting, engaging people. We learn that Nancy’s brother Carl and his wife Irene live in Austin. He’s an adolescent psychologist. Irene’s in charge of the Science textbooks for the state of TX. They agree to meet us for dinner—delightful people we definitely want to introduce to Adam and Caroline. They live in a neighborhood near the Griffin School. Continue reading Onward to Key West→
Many of you asked that we again write a blog about our winter journeying. This year’s trip will be quite different I suspect—more internal than external. We’ve decided to stay in three locations for a month at a time, using our RV as home base. Many also wished us a much less adventurous start than last year. Read on and see. . .but if you don’t have time or interest, that’s OK too. Continue reading Austin or Bust!→
I have a lot of subscriptions (NY Times, WP, etc.), and various vendors send me flyers. All of it used to swamp my one email inbox.Even though I used MS Outlook to sorted it by setting up complicated sorting rules, each new sender required a new rule and I soon fell behind.
Then I got smart. I had a disused email account (email@example.com) and I began using that when I subscribed to anything and also whenever I ordered stuff online. It was easy to automatically route everything from that secondary mailbox to a new special folder. When bulk mail arrived at my primary correspondence box, I’d unsubscribe; or when I actually wanted it, I’d change the preferences settings on my account at the sender.
Before long just about all the bulk stuff was arriving in the Hotmail account folder where I could deal with it as my time permitted. Now I don’t have the clutter of 20 to 30 low priority subscription items amongst the important stuff; yet everything is still there when I wish to read an item. I ask my friends to use the Hotmail address when they cc me.
Many email programs have a filter that allows you to screen emails addressed to more than one recipient. Use that filter to move the mail that’s broadcast to many people to a bulk mail folder.
Oh yes, another tip, Hotmail has a filter that checks to see if the sender is in your Hotmail address book. Use that to separate the mail sent by those you know from those you don’t — the stuff from strangers is held in the spam folder.
With tricks like these you can tame the flood with ease and avoid most of the mailbox housekeeping chores.
Don’t have two email accounts? — open a free one at gmail.com or yahoo.com.
I’ve been in a fog about the Climate Change March in NYC due to my computer’s being hacked and all my addresses contacted for a scam (sorry if you were one of them—no, I am not stranded in Manila on vacation, and thanks for not sending me money!). Anyway, I just woke up to the fact that I didn’t have a seat on the train to and from NYC, so this morning at 6AM I was wide awake putting the pieces together. The train from Trenton is already sold out, and I got two of the last seats from Princeton (luckily I’m close to both stations now that we live in Pennsylvania).
We’re all absorbed in the necessary and important things we fill our days with—yet we must also act to assure a livable future for those who come after we are gone.
On Sunday, Sept. 21, people from all over the country will be coming together in NYC for the People’s Climate March. The March is anticipated to be the largest climate rally in history. This is our chance to influence world leaders before the UN Climate Summit to support a comprehensive global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.
If you’re coming too, let me know! If you can’t come, please join me in prayer for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Look for me in the crowd and let’s pray for the loving, life-giving changes the world community must choose.
An online collection of shared resources, information, and essays.